If you own and maintain a car, and are looking to sell it, there are several options available. You can trade it in for a new model, sell it directly to a car dealer or sell it privately to an individual. A private sale can be the most profitable option for you as you'll be selling it directly to the person that will drive it. Unlike the first two choices what you should receive in a private sale will not be greatly deducted, as a dealer will seek to mark up your car later to make a profit.

7-Step Car Selling Process

That profit is something that you can keep, but it quickly can disappear if you do not prepare your car for sale first. Read on and we'll examine how to sell your car privately and make the most money in the process.

1. Clean out your vehicle. You will want to get your car cleaned up before offering it for sale. This means going through the trunk, the glove box and other storage compartments and pulling out everything that will not be part of the sale. Remove unrelated paperwork, throw out the trash and ensure that the documentation related to your car is in place. That documentation includes its registration and owner's manual. Other documentation such as your insurance card should remain in the vehicle until it is sold. In addition, find your vehicle's title as you will need this form to sell your car. If the form is missing, obtain a copy from your state 'department of motor vehicle. If you still owe money on your car, then pay off the loan to remove the lien. Once paid off your DMV will issue a new title in your name.

2. Detail your vehicle. From top to bottom and inside and out, you'll be going over your vehicle's surface and interior to make sure that it is clean. First, vacuum the interior and shampoo the carpet and seats if needed. Take an ear swab and clean out its vents, paying close attention to every nook and cranny. Second, wash the exterior of the car, removing dirt, scuff marks and fixing scratches. You'll need to apply a wax and quite possibly touch up paint. Remove dents, clean the tires and detail the wheels, trim and other brightwork. Glass inside and out should sparkle. Your trunk should be vacuumed out as well. The spare tire should be in good condition and inflated; a jack should be present and working. Clean underneath the hood as well, removing dirt and debris. Ensure that all wires and hoses are secure; clean off the battery if needed. Top off all fluids.

3. Resolve mechanical problems. You'll be selling your car “as is,” but apparent mechanical problems can make your vehicle more difficult to sell. Completing an oil change, tuning up the engine, rotating tires and fixing brake problems are important maintenance steps. Expect to discount your car if there are still unresolved maintenance issues that need to be addressed. Be honest with the buyer about known issues, but hold your ground if this person seeks to nit-pick while negotiating. Hold out for your price or wait for another bidder.

4. Learn your car's current value. Car valuation is a science, best left up to the professionals. Visit Kelley Blue Book to determine what your car might fetch in a sale. Determine how much a dealer might pay for your car and what your car can sell for privately. Your price should be close to its private sale value and definitely above what a dealer would pay for it. Every dollar above the dealer amount is what you'll profit in this transaction. Consider that the buyer has this information too and will negotiate accordingly.

5. Advertise your sale. Place signs on your car advertising its sale. Include a contact number – use your cell phone number to ensure that no calls are missed or forward your land line to your cell phone to conceal the latter's number. Include the vehicle make / model and model year on the sign. Optional is wherever you choose to post its price. Advertise your vehicle on Craigslist. If you are selling a classic, consider eBay Motors. Write up a flyer with details about your sale and post these in conspicuous places such as at a supermarket bulletin board or other well-traveled place. Obtain a CarFax history of your car to show to prospective buyers.

6. Arrive at an agreed upon price. Potential buyers will want to test drive your vehicle. Always ride with them when they drive, confirming that their driver's license is valid first. By riding with the car shopper, you can answer questions and point out certain features they might miss. If a shopper is ready to make an offer then receive it. If the offer is acceptable, then conclude the deal. If it is not, then counter offer until both sides are satisfied with the offer. Move on to someone else if their offer is too low and they will not budge. Once a deal has been stuck, then obtain the cash or receive a certified check. Go to the bank with this individual to verify that his check is good. Go with this individual to DMV to transfer title and complete your state's requirements to finalize the sale.

7. Remove tags and paperwork. Before you leave your car with its new owner, you'll need to remove its license plates or tags as well as other personal information including your insurance. Return the license plate (s) to the DMV and contact your auto insurer to cancel your insurance coverage for this vehicle only. Use this time to update your insurance for each of your remaining vehicles.


One of the main reasons why some people do not like to sell their car privately are the hassles involved with screening potential buyers. Clearly, not everyone has the time to market their car, so other options should be considered. These include telling your co-workers about your car or people in your church, group or other organization. Of course, if you feel uncomfortable selling your car to someone you know, then you may simply want to sell it to a dealer and allow him to handle the details.